Improper Medical Waste Disposal’s Environmental Impact

By: Russ Haedt
US Bio-Clean Managing Partner 

Medical waste is a serious environmental concern. Unlike municipal waste, waste from medical sources readily harms the environment and poses a threat to people and animals living in it. Medical waste causes toxic, infectious and physical harm, especially if not treated properly. We will examine the environmental consequences of improper medical waste disposal.

Release of Toxins Into the Environment

There are several kinds of toxins found in medical waste. Improper disposal of medical waste releases toxins in the environment where they can harm wildlife and plants in the area. Furthermore, it makes the area unsuitable for human habitat or use.

Some of the most commonly found toxins in medical waste include:

  • Mercury – this heavy metal element is found in old lab instruments including thermometers, sphygmomanometers, and dental amalgams
  • Dioxins – toxins present in most plastics, including PVCs
  • Waste containing chemotherapy substances – medical waste generated from cancer treatment, which tends to contain chemotherapeutic substances.
  • Radioactive substances – used for radiotherapy of cancer and for certain diagnostic procedures
  • Pharmaceutical products – these include discarded unused expired and contaminated drugs, vaccines and serums

In addition, discarded medicines can cause harm when released into the environment. Mercury, chemotherapeutic compounds and dioxins are inherently poisonous. These radioactive substances emit ionizing radiation that causes cancer, undesirable mutations, and reproductive problems (and can for several years depending on the location and depth of contamination). These toxic substances can pollute groundwater and can be transported to other areas through runoff.

Another widely used substance is polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. It is frequently used in health care because it is flexible and does not cause allergic reactions. PVC is used in tubing and containers for blood and blood components, ostomy products, and equipment used for specialized procedures. PVC is a persistent environmental pollutant that does not break down easily in normal conditions, causing undesirable changes in soil composition.

Contamination With Infectious Substances

Because medical waste is a by-product of health care, it obviously contains infectious substances. Medical waste often contains body fluids such as blood, blood products, lymph and discharges, as well as anatomic body parts or carcasses of animals used for research. It may also contain contaminated materials such as swabs, used bandages, and disposable medical equipment. It may contain discarded cultures, used culture mediums and stocks of infectious agents. These substances contain pathogenic microorganisms that cause disease.

Take note that infectious substances make up 15% of medical wastes. Improper release of untreated medical waste allows infectious substances to permeate the environment and spread disease to living things in the area.

Risk of Physical Harm

Medical waste may contain sharps, which are regularly used in health care. Some examples of sharps include scalpels, lancets, syringes, and dental wires. Sharps waste is frequently contaminated with blood or body fluids that contain disease-causing microorganisms; sharps may contain microorganisms that cause AIDS and chronic hepatitis. Contact or an injury caused by contaminated sharps can introduce these pathogens into the body and cause disease. Aside from infection, released sharps pose a risk of puncture injuries and cuts to animals and humans. Sharps can easily poke through garbage bags and cause injuries. This is why it is so important to only use specially designed sharps containers for disposal.

Medical waste is an inevitable part of health care. Because of the harm it causes, several laws and guidelines are in force in Arizona to reduce or prevent discharge of untreated medical waste into the environment.

Russ is a managing partner with US Bio-Clean. He is also a Firefighter, Paramedic and Hazardous Materials Technician with the Phoenix Fire Department, where he has proudly served for over 16 years. Russ concurrently serves in a national capacity as a Hazardous Materials Specialist assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), Arizona Task Force 1. Prior to joining the fire service, Russ served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare defense specialist. Russ has been involved in the hazardous materials industry as both a first responder and educator since 1988.

References

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs253/en/

http://www.unc.edu/~nmdorsey/unit1final.html

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/MedicalWaste.aspx

http://blogs.cornell.edu/bioee1610/2011/11/29/health-care-causing-more-harm-than-help-the-detrimental-impact-of-medical-waste-on-a-vulnerable-environment/

http://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/publications/icrc-002-4032.pdf

http://www.noharm.org/global/issues/waste/

Celebrating Lake Pleasant

By: Pamela Pickard
CAP Board President

T
his month, Central Arizona Project (CAP) is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first fill of Lake Pleasant following the construction of New Waddell Dam. In addition to being a scenic recreational facility, Lake Pleasant plays a key role in delivering water to more than five million Arizona residents. The lake is actually a 15-square-mile reservoir that holds water from two sources: the Colorado River and the Agua Fria River.

Construction of the original Lake Pleasant dam was completed in 1927. This multiple-arch concrete dam stored Agua Fria River for the Maricopa Water District (MWD). It was named Waddell Dam in 1964 to honor Donald Waddell, a partner in the investment firm that helped MWD to finance the dam.

In 1973, CAP began building an aqueduct that would divert Colorado River water to the lake and eventually converted Lake Pleasant into a reservoir. The New Waddell Dam was completed in 1992 and the initial fill of the larger reservoir was finished by 1994, quadrupling the surface area of the lake and submerging the old dam beneath its waters. While the Agua Fria River still feeds the lake, the CAP aqueduct’s Colorado River water is its primary source.

Today, Lake Pleasant is CAP’s regulatory storage reservoir. From approximately October to March, when water demand is reduced, CAP stores Colorado River water in Lake Pleasant, raising the lake level. Then, from about March through September, CAP releases water from the lake to supplement the higher summer demands of the cities, farmers and Native American communities rather than pumping that water all the way from Lake Havasu. Better yet, CAP generates hydroelectricity when releasing water from the lake, enough to supply power to 25,000 homes.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, located on the western side of the lake, is one of the most scenic water recreation areas in the region and offers visitors the chance to participate in activities such as camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking and wildlife viewing. Arizonans can be thankful, not only for the recreational amenities, but for the role Lake Pleasant plays in supplying the state with precious water!

CAP Prepared for Arizona’s Water Future

By: Pamela Pickard
CAP Board President 

Central Arizona Project (CAP) is the primary steward of central Arizona’s Colorado River water supplies and places paramount importance on the health and sustainability of the river. Since 2000, the Colorado River basin has endured the worst drought in centuries, yet Colorado River water users in California, Nevada and Arizona have not had to reduce the volume of water they receive from the river.  How has this been possible?  Largely because our predecessors constructed a system of reservoirs (including Lake Mead and Lake Powell) that allow the Colorado River basin to store four times the amount of water it receives in a normal year.  Fortunately, those reservoirs were full when the current drought started and even 14 years later are still nearly half full.

But there will be Colorado River shortages in CAP’s future, perhaps as early as 2016 or 2017. It is important for Arizonans to understand what will happen and what will not happen when that day arrives.  When a shortage is declared on the Colorado River, the impacts will first be felt by CAP’s agricultural customers, who could lose more than half of their CAP water. CAP has been working with the agricultural community as they have prepared for anticipated reductions.  For many farmers, a CAP shortage will mean a return to groundwater pumping.

But a shortage on the Colorado River in the coming years will not require any reduction in CAP water deliveries to cities, towns or other municipal water providers.  That is because those customers enjoy a higher priority to water, meaning that those uses are among the last to be cut when CAP supplies are reduced.

Over the longer term, growing water demands—both within the CAP service area and along the Colorado River—and more severe shortages will likely reduce the amount of water available from the river for delivery to CAP’s municipal customers.  But CAP has prepared for that, working with the Arizona Water Banking Authority (AWBA) to store Colorado River water in underground aquifers in central Arizona where it can be recovered during shortage.  So far, the AWBA has stored about 3 million acre-feet to protect CAP municipal supplies.  CAP has been working for several years with the AWBA, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and stakeholders to develop a plan for the recovery of that water.

CAP is also actively engaged with ADWR, the other six basin states, the United States and Mexico to address the long-term health and sustainability of the Colorado River system and the growing water needs of the region.  Achieving those goals will ultimately require a combination of improved efficiency, increased supply and demand reduction.

To that end, CAP has invested in a number of programs within our service area and our region—building a new reservoir in California, operating the Yuma Desalting Plant, and funding conservation in Mexico to preserve Colorado River supplies in Lake Mead.  CAP also supports innovations in water conservation in partnership with California and Nevada water providers. Augmenting Colorado River supplies through desalination of sea water or brackish (salty) groundwater is also being investigated.

Drought preparedness is not only a CAP priority; it is a shared responsibility among all water users in the southwest. There is no magic bullet that can resolve all of these issues. Importantly, individual efforts to use water more efficiently and local efforts to develop alternative supplies are every bit as critical to our water future as the larger, regional projects. At CAP, we are committed as individuals and as an organization to doing our part to address the great challenges ahead.

HOUSING MARKET NEEDS EMPATHY

By: Mark StappMark Stapp
Executive Director
Master of Real Estate Development program
ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business

President Barack Obama’s speech this month in Phoenix created another heightened public discussion about the housing market. In some respects, it was more of the same conversation about a complex topic that unfortunately, for the most part, has lacked a human element.

Most of the time, the public discussion about the housing market is about how it is improving — or not, in some places — as well as its impact on our economy. It is widely accepted that a recovered and healthy housing market is critical to the entire U.S. economic recovery.

We hear continued calls to reform the housing market, banking, the mortgage process and government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We also hear calls to require more private investment in the mortgage market and to prosecute executives involved in mortgage fraud.

Many housing advocates remain upset by the foreclosure scandal, and stories swirl about illegal foreclosures and servicers demolishing the wrong homes. Attention is also focused on investors buying up homes, tight supply and tight underwriting standards, making it difficult for homeowners to buy homes, as well as a lack of skilled labor to help meet the increased demand to build new ones.

A community bedrock

News reporters parse these aspects and ask categorical questions about the market. However, housing is a complex industry, and the market is simply the manifestation of how the industry is working. It is like a fine watch with many synchronized mechanisms that allow it to function effectively and efficiently.

Unlike other manufacturing industries, the housing industry is also the bedrock of sustainable communities. Housing makes up both a local community and personal assets, representing a significant part of a community’s built capital. We need quality, affordable housing for a vibrant local economy.

However, it is difficult to change this industry and rid it of fraud, abuse, greed and inefficiency while still ensuring it can keep originating the high volume of mortgages it now creates. Like a watch, the industry is designed to move only in one direction — creating new mortgages so supply can be absorbed.

This industry does not work well at fixing problems. It is not designed to deal with individuals, their problems and their stories. The system has no empathy and no sympathy. It can’t work backward when communities and individuals have problems. Private business exists to make a profit, and profit is made in the creation, at the transaction, not fixing problems that emerge after the creation.

A long-term fix that deals with inevitable economic downturns will mean building empathy into the process, and that will not happen without regulatory involvement that enforces a public purpose and provides an efficient, transparent, equally available system to deal with individuals and communities after the mortgage has been created, packaged, sold, sliced, diced and given to an unimpassioned third party to collect payments.

Avoiding the next crisis

The president’s speech included a wide array of programs, initiatives and actions. These represent the complexity of the industry and the problem. The entire industry is not just about making money on the creation; it’s also about people’s lives — and our lives change, circumstances change, and the economy changes. The reason we have a crisis of this magnitude is that the industry does not work backward, so to avoid another crisis, maybe changes should consider how we deal with individuals and how we include an opportunity for empathy throughout the process.

The recession did not just penalize those who took out mortgages they could not afford. The recession was also a sucker punch to many in the middle of life and many toward retirement. Whatever you had in play through the honest work ethic taught from a previous generation all of a sudden was turned on an axis. It was unfamiliar territory and required assistance that was counter to what the industry or our society was designed to provide.

Greed must not be the leading business force for our sustainable future as a global leader. We, as a society, should want to create a healthy, balanced capitalist market to accommodate whatever shifts occur for all concerned to ride the waves of the always changing markets.

This article first appeared in The Arizona Republic’s op-ed section on August 15, 2013.

NEW YEAR, NEW LOOK

By: Lori McConville
Executive Vice President, The Caliber Group

In 2012 Valley Forward (now Arizona Forward) decided to expand its mission statewide. This decision supported the organization’s growth after 43 years of success in the Phoenix area. The organization needed a new name – Arizona Forward – and brand to help launch the statewide presence. The Caliber Group, based in Tucson with offices in Phoenix and Charleston, had the expertise Arizona Forward was seeking to position the organization and develop a new brand.

Caliber delved into the organization’s past and present and also examined its future goals in order to fully understand what it was Arizona Forward needed to be successful. Caliber President Kerry Stratford worked with her team to come up with an entire business package that included a logo, launch assessment, updated web presence, social media, branding and other online tools.
AZF logo icon
The process was highly collaborative and because Arizona Forward had such a clear vision, creating the logo was a smooth process. The organization had an abstract message – one that isn’t always simple to translate into a visual. But key messages, such as growth, development and the environment were ever present and it became clear in the branding process that the logo needed to reflect those components.

Caliber created just that – a logo that clearly shows what Arizona Forward is most focused on: a balance between the built environment and environmental sustainability.

Addy Award Stakeholders and the organization’s board were pleased with the logo and feel it clearly defines the organization’s future goals. A postcard announcing the new look was also a big success and was awarded a Tucson Addy Award.

Arizona Forward’s Chief Executive Officer and President, Diane Brossart, said the process with Caliber was extremely pleasant Mailerand successful. “We never felt like we were off base. The Caliber team was really in tune with what we were trying to achieve. The logo was dead-on and the colors perfect.”

Caliber continues to work with Arizona Forward and is currently redesigning its website as well as designing an electronic newsletter template, event presentation boards and membership materials.

The methodical rollout has been very well received and Arizona Forward’s email inboxes are constantly full with inquires from new sources interested in learning more about its mission. It’s exciting and daunting, Brossart admits, but it’s worth it because it’s Our Environmental Legacy, Your Sustainable Future.